Faith & Slavery

Written by #SFCSummit15 Keynote, Rev. Alexia Salvatierra

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Faith, at its best, has always been a resource for those seeking freedom. However, faith leaders, congregations and institutions have more to offer than is often utilized in the struggle against slavery.  Besides providing consolation, support services and pastoral counseling for survivors, clergy and congregations can become powerful advocates, contributing their unique gifts to broader public policy campaigns.

From the civil rights movement’s battle against segregation to the work done by World Vision for child protection legislation, faith leaders can be eloquent voices for those whose voices are not heard. Because faith leaders and congregations care for those in need, we know the names and faces of victims. We can carry their stories with conviction to those who need to hear them.

We can also bring a different kind of power into the “Halls of Power.” Jesus called his followers to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” in Matthew 10:16. To be wise as serpents is to take seriously the carnal and sinful aspects of human nature and to apply necessary pressure to ensure that government leaders pass policies that make a difference for the enslaved. To be innocent as doves is to take seriously that the Holy Spirit is alive and well, at work in all places and times (even in the hearts of political leaders!). It also means we partner with the Spirit in enabling spiritual awakening and moral courage in decision-makers.

A few years ago, advocates in California were working to pass municipal legislation benefiting the working poor. The City Council was 60% against; the opponents of the legislation had invested heavily in the campaign. Faith leaders began attending the public commentary sessions at the beginning of the Council sessions weekly and using their two minutes at the microphone for fervent prayer. A personally devout Council member changed his vote and supported the legislation. When a reporter asked him why, he responded that he “couldn’t take being prayed for one more week.” He had armor against the talking points, but the prayer went under his armor and touched his heart and soul. He wrestled with his conscience and his God, then displayed the moral courage necessary to stand up and respond to the needs of the poor.

Those who fight human trafficking and slavery often need to stand up to real opposition – both from those who profit by it and those who simply have other priorities. Last summer, we almost lost the William Wilberforce anti-trafficking legislation passed under the Bush presidency in 2008 because of opposition to the surge of Central American children and youth being guaranteed a full and lengthy asylum assessment process by the law. Because faith leaders cross all partisan lines, we can be the voice of reason and compassion at moments when both are lost in the midst of reaction. We can build bridges across wide spectrums, across racial and economic divides, through no-man’s lands of conflict–for the sake of the most vulnerable in our midst and for the common good.

To hear Alexia at the Slave-Free City Summit on April 18, register here.